Leadership, Self-Awareness, and Personal Intelligence

Leadership through self-awareness….

    Can a person become a better leader by understanding his or her own personality and the strength this has within an organization?

    Many leaders “go through the motions” each day, demonstrating what they believe to be exceptional leadership behaviors.  Behaviors they learned from mentors, or from and excellent leadership curriculum.

    Leadership behaviors are only a small component of what constitutes a good leader.  What about the unique characteristics of a leader; those personal qualities, unique to each person, that gives them the added ability to analyze their surroundings with a higher level of perception?  A level that sets them apart from other, “average” leaders?

    I believe this higher level comes from a person’s intelligence level, a strength that sets these leaders apart from others.  Some scholars refer to this as a leader’s Emotional Intelligence (EI) level.  And yes, a leader’s EI levels plays an important part in the development of leadership styles and techniques.

    But I like taking the discussion of EI a little deeper, to what is referred to as Personal Intelligence.  Personal intelligence is a person’s ability to understand their own personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and use this understanding (and feedback from others) to make better decisions that influence themselves and the people around them (Mayer, 2008).

    Dr John Mayer from the University of New Hampshire has had done great work and pioneered the study of personal intelligence.  This study involves a deeper investigation of a leader’s personality, and how that person uses this strength to fully understand themselves.  This deeper understanding helps influences their decision making process.  These decisions ultimately affect themselves, and the lives of their employees.

     This ties into my study of leadership engagement, and taking the time and energy to fully understand what makes your people tick.  A leader accomplishes this by having a higher level of self-awareness about themselves.  Leader’s use feedback and “signals” about how they are perceived in the workplace to gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.  He or she then uses this understanding to engage their employees and uncover characteristics about them, and develop methods that motivates each employee individually.

   This understanding can be easy or hard…depending on a person’s level of personal intelligence.  The higher the level of personal intelligence, the more in-depth a person will be able to understand themselves, and understand the personality dynamics of their people.

    What are the implications of personal intelligence on modern-day leadership; modern-day work climates where everything is running a mile-a-minute?  Climates where employees are more concerned with social media than specific work assignments?

   The implication is understanding (using personal intelligence!) that employees, especially young and inexperienced ones, have a life outside of your organization, and a leader’s decisions impact their lives, both internally and externally to the organization.  Failing to understand the dynamics of the workforce will possibly cause a leader to miss “signs” to bigger issues affecting their employees.  Issues that may include family problems, financial, and home responsibilities.  All issues that can rob the employee of engagement energy that would otherwise be invested in the work environment. 

   A leader with a higher level of personal intelligence will better understand their own personalities, and connect with their employees on a higher level.  This level of connection will allow a leader to better forecast the needs of employees, making for a better work environment that transcends the work/life boundary.  They will be able to connect with employees on a level that sends a message that they care about their ENTIRE life.  This can be a very fine line, but can be accomplished professionally while safeguarding the company chain-of-command and the private lives of the employees.

    So spend some time understanding your personal intelligence level.  Use the feedback from this self-assessment to develop relationships with your employees that yields a happier workforce, and a stronger environment that develops all employees to want to contribute more.


Mayer, J. D. (2008). Personal intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 27(3), 209-232.


About My Course of Action

My Course of Action is a leadership development company, providing human capital solutions for a changing business environment. Our focus is on leadership and employee engagement and developing leaders who recognize the value of the "people element" of their organizations.
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